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Helpful ways to look after your mental health as you get older

It might surprise some to learn that getting older and having a so called ‘wealth of experience’ to call on doesn’t make older people immune to experiencing a crisis, or times when they just find it unusually difficult to cope.  

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They say ‘life begins at 60’ - but does it?  Often, older people experience depression and mental illness because of their life experience, including loss of a loved one, and illness.

Our elders may have struggled in the past with keeping hold of their mental health. Understandably, it’s increasingly harder to deal with daily life as they age.

Feelings of depression, confusion and anxiety can make older people feel isolated – like they have no control over life.  If you, or a loved one, are struggling and it is preventing you from living life to the full, you are not alone. Rest assured, help is available.

It can be challenging and upsetting for sufferers themselves, as well as family and friends.  By acknowledging the problem you can take the first steps toward recovery.

Causes of mental health illness in older people

At some point many older people experience mental health issues due to:

  • Disease and illness
  • Grief and loss associated with losing a partner and/or leaving the family home
  • Loss of independence and increasing frailty
  • Growing feelings of isolation
  • Financial stress
  • Post-traumatic stress relating to past life experiences
  • Relapse of previous mental illness conditions.
  • Threats or attempts related to suicide or self-harm
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Withdrawal from social activities and becoming isolated
  • Self-destructive or other risk-taking behaviour (i.e., reckless driving, spending sprees, gambling)
  • Excessive neediness or fear of abandonment that lead to intense relationships
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty empathising
  • Binge eating or other eating disorders
  • Extreme reactions to real or perceived threats.
  • Feelings of depression or hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem or distorted self-image
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Paranoia or emotional detachment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Mood swings, uncontrollable anger or irritability.
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Suspiciousness
  • Disassociation
  • Neurosis.

Warning signs and symptoms of mental health distress in older people

Recognising the signs of mental health problems in older people can be difficult.  Each person is different and often older people can show a range of symptoms from the list below:

Behavioural

  • Threats or attempts related to suicide or self-harm 
  • Substance use or abuse 
  • Withdrawal from social activities and becoming isolated 
  • Self-destructive or other risk-taking behaviour (i.e., reckless driving, spending sprees, gambling) 
  • Excessive neediness or fear of abandonment that lead to intense relationships 
  • Confusion 
  • Difficulty empathising 
  • Binge eating or other eating disorders 
  • Extreme reactions to real or perceived threats.

Psychological

  • Feelings of depression or hopelessness 
  • Low self-esteem or distorted self-image 
  • Anxiety or nervousness 
  • Paranoia or emotional detachment 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Mood swings, uncontrollable anger or irritability.

Cognitive

  • Paranoia 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Suspiciousness 
  • Disassociation 
  • Neurosis.

How you can help an older person suffering mental health issues?

It can be difficult to watch a loved one or friend struggle with their mental wellbeing, let alone know where to start to get help.

They may be scared or embarrassed and reluctant to seek treatment or acknowledge the problem.  Your understanding and patience will help someone close to you recognise their condition is an illness not a personal weakness or failing.  A conversation is a good place to start and you can find some great tips on how to start the conversation at Beyondblue.

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With helpful advice and information, the road to treatment and recovery is easier.  Quite simply, visit your GP for a referral to a specialist in the field, for the first step to recovery.

If you are caring for someone in need, it is also important to stay well yourself, while you help your loved one. Take the time to look after your own health and wellbeing needs. 

What treatment and support is available for older people with mental health issues in the Robina area?

Older people with private health cover, or those who can self-fund treatment can access an extensive range of innovative inpatient and day programs locally at Robina Private Hospital.  This includes:

Older persons’ mental health program

Our dedicated older persons’ unit has a team that understands the needs of older people.  Robina Private’s Older Persons’ mental health program offers inpatient admissions to our state-of-the-art private hospital, as well as an extensive range of day programs. It ensures a holistic approach that works in partnership with older people, their families, carers and other service providers to plan for the future. 

Healthy Minds - a Cognitive Stimulation Program  

Healthy Minds is a day program that helps people aged over 50 with education and support to manage adjustment difficulties, depression, anxiety or memory loss.  Sessions include cognitive stimulation, memory strategies, relaxation and mindfulness and education sessions relating to brain health, physical health and cognitive health.

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Memory Clinic

The Memory Clinic is a day program that works with older people with a known memory disorder who are experiencing adverse Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD) living in residential care or their own homes.   

Young@Heart – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for older people

Designed to meet the needs of people over 50 years of age who are experiencing adjustment difficulties, anxiety, or depression, Young@Heart is based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and other strength based therapies. Sessions include reminiscing, validation, generating meaning, dignity, positive appraisal and reframing daily experience.

Inpatient admissions for older people

Sometimes, a hospital stay is the best way to support older people who are unable to cope.  Our compassionate and caring team specialise in the assessment, treatment and support of mental health disorders and mental illness. 

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All you need is a referral from your Doctor to a Psychiatrist with admitting rights to Robina Private. Our Admissions and Assessment team help with your assessment to access our services, then set a date to come into hospital. Your wellbeing, and making sure you receive the most appropriate support is our primary concern.

Sometimes an alternate Psychiatrist will be recommended as the most experienced professional to help you with your unique circumstances. This Psychiatrist will be responsible for overseeing your treatment – to help with what is most important to you. An experienced team of nursing and allied health professionals will also support you during your stay. Your recovery plan will include joining one or more of our innovative inpatient therapy programs. 

Our team starts working with you and planning for your return to your usual life in the community as soon as you are under our care.  They will talk to you and plan for your support beyond your hospital stay.  

Our day patient programs can be used as an alternative to admission, or as part of a relapse prevent plan to support discharge from hospital.

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (RTMS)

Robina Private Hospital has accredited clinicians who administer RTMS, a proven alternative, non-invasive treatment for depression. It is currently offered as part of a 3 week inpatient admission program. 

Treatment involves a mild form of brain stimulation using magnetic fields generated by a coil placed on the head, with few side effects, and then importantly supported by a depression specific psychoeducation program designed to provide skills and strategies to support your ongoing recovery.

Our Clinicians are Black Dog Institute trained and experienced in delivering this emerging form of treatment.

Reach out

If you or someone you love is feeling overwhelmed or suffering from a diagnosed mental illness we’re here to listen. Call 07 5665 5100 to take the first step toward recovery. Speak to one of our qualified and compassionate staff members about treatment options today.

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If you are in distress call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

If you need emergency support, please dial 000 for the police or an ambulance.

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